Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Answering Review Request: Dead Star Frozen Magic

Gregory Mandarano asked me to read his novel "Dead Star: Frozen Magic". It's a medieval fantasy with both high level politics and magic. It's hard to classify because there are two plotlines with genre shifts. I will examine plot, characters and polish and then assign a grade.

In general:

The flow of the plot is strange to me because of interweaving narratives and irregular pacing. The first three chapters are from three separate viewpoints in three different locations. Given the way that the first two end, I thought this was an anthology verse instead of a single story.  I had to check its listing on Amazon to confirm this was not the case,

There is a lot of information to get abreast of. There are the  names of noble houses, what they are like, their relations to each other, and where they are in the setting. There's the setting itself with its terms like "Eastern Realm" and "Western Realm" without any geologic reference point to what they are east or west of, I assumed  "Midgard" but I have no idea where that is in reference to anything else. 
There's also the significance of things like eye color and hair color; their importance to houses or ethnics or connection to "the Ancients".  There's the nature and status of magic in this world which shifts from "it's around and used" to "it was here but its dead/frozen" and "that's not magic but scientos!".
Having had too fun much fun creating my own fictional world, I can hardly blame Mr. Mandarano for going into detail for his own. On the contrary, I enjoyed the richness of the setting after I got over the learning curve.
The plot thread interweaving and shifting viewpoints are confusing at first because everyone is somewhere else and doing their own thing with their own cast. This exacerbates the problem of information and vast casts by multiplying them. However, once Axe and Clique and Collin join up, then the shifting becomes an advantage by showing different viewpoints on the same event with the same people but different circumstances for each viewer. This then becomes a enhancing effect because it compounds the reader's knowledge.

There is a total of six viewpoints but two are more prominent than the rest.

Now for the specific plot lines:  

1. Dead Star Rising
There is Havik who is in the far north gathering star metal for fame and fortune. In the process, he unleashes an "obsidian horror" in the form of a black ooze monster and this causes a Psychological Horror/Dwindling Party style plot. It is also In Media Res. His first chapter is near the end of his story and the rest of his chapters are all leading up to that until his final chapter, which shows what happens after that point. This caused me confusion, it's only tangentially related to the rest of the book and leads to foregone conclusion, which makes large stretches of it boring.

However, there is plenty in this plot thread that is not boring. For instance, there is interesting world building going in this plot thread. This is where the reader learns about the upper plot structure-the cosmic godly struggle thing-instead of the routine human politicking. Havik's mental unraveling is also well developed. He is confronted by the supernatural at every turn and yet he clings to Scientos and reason out of family pride, and yet, these very qualities lead me to believe in the supernatural.

I feel that this should have been its own separate book because it has little to do directly with the rest. It doesn't share any characters and is only useful for explaining where that "black stuff" that corrupts living things comes from but even this is only relevant after the peace summit plot thread which is several hundred pages in. I think it would have been a great companion book as a prologue.

The end for this plot thread is satisfying. I had a feeling something like it might happen because in this genre, that is the sort of conclusion that lends a final twist while remaining plausible.

2. Peace Summit

The Eastern Realm and the Western Realm are gathering at Stormfist Stronghold in Midgard for a peace summit. There is a lot to do about this and it occupies Clique, Collin and Axe for a good chunk of the story. There is political intrigue, "diabolical" plotting, and a good deal of poison going around in goblets and daggers. This is all interesting stuff and I liked watching it develop. The problem is that it goes nowhere.

The Black Seed Plague that Havik unleashed overtakes the narrative and the summit and its politics are never mentioned again. Thus, as good as it is (and it is very good!) in the end it feels like a plot device to gather the characters together.

3. Fresh Doom

A Black Seed Plague; an evil god trying to escape its prison; a supernatural disaster; a corrupted world tree; all of these threats come up over the course of the story. They are introduced and nothing more. This is because all of them come from the secondary plot thread of Havic. He does not resolve any of them and instead they supplant the Peace Summit. It is not resolved there and instead the book ends on a lesser cliffhanger.


This cast has Loads and Loads of Characters with no central protagonist or main cast so I will go into a couple at brief.

Axe Treefort is  The Cape and The Ace. He's like an in-universe gamebreaker because he can't be killed in anyway and he is skilled at anything he puts his mind to (except dancing). This means he rarely faces challenges so simply as "kill that guy". He has to do so with handicaps like hostages, or after performing a superhuman feat simply to reach his enemy, or his enemy has magic to counter his strength and skill.
He's a great guy and  a humble guy. One time he turns down a knighthood. He's in the Royal Huntsman For Great Justice.

Clique Gravious is a pragmatic anti-hero. He uses a scythe in combat, which is cool, but he notes that it is most useful in wide open areas and against large targets like cavalry. He also has something of a Spider Sense, which certainly comes in handy in this Cloak and Dagger setting, but because he is Incompletely Trained, it is not gamebreaking like his master's abilities would be.

Havik Davenport is an Agent Scully who is beaten over the head with scary magic and frightful corruption until he losses this status. He is a devoted worshipper of Scientos! He's also ambitious and cunning, playing mind games with a deity.


I found two or so grammar problems. In 500 pages, that's impressive.
I had a problem rating this book and that problem is the pacing. Taken separately, I wouldn't have any trouble giving all three plot lines an A+, but they're not separate. They're interwoven. This throws off their pacing, creates foregone conclusions within the book, and drags out each one of them to make the story longer. Then one of them has a cliffhanger, yet that cliffhanger is mitigated by something that happens shortly before it and the book itself does not end on a cliffhanger.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Dead Star: Frozen Magic a B++ (This is unique at Trickster Eric Novels as a compromise with myself)

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